May 2, 2019

Supreme Court of California grants review to resolve split over application of "clear and convincing" evidence standard

As reported on our sister blog, At the Lectern, the Supreme Court has finally agreed to settle a long-running split of authority about how the clear and convincing evidence standard applies, if at all, on appeal.

The issue has great importance for punitive damages cases because, as readers of this blog are
aware, California plaintiffs must prove all the prerequisites for a punitive damages award by clear and convincing evidence.   (See Civil Code section 3294.)

As we have discussed in the past, our appellate courts do not agree about whether they should take the heightened standard of proof into account when reviewing the sufficiency of the plaintiffs' evidence.  Many courts say yes, but others have said no.

The Supreme Court has furthered the confusion by seeming to take both sides of the debate.  (Compare Crail v. Blakely [holding that clear and convincing standard was adopted only "for the edification and guidance of the trial court"] with In re Angelia P. [holding that the clear and convincing evidence standard is incorporated into the substantial evidence standard on appeal].)

The Supreme Court actually granted review to address this issue over a decade ago. But the parties settled that case and the issue became moot.  In the years since, many other petitions raised the issue, but the Supreme Court consistently denied them.  Now, finally, in Conservatorship of O.B., the Supreme Court has agreed to take the issue up again.  With any luck, the parties to that case will not reach a settlement.